Otis Technologies came into being in 1985 when 16-year-old Doreen Garrett was hunting with her grandfather’s Winchester Model 94 and she fell, resulting in a gun barrel full with mud. Her day was over. As she walked back to camp, a new product innovation was created with the solution to her muddy gun barrel. She built the first practical breech to muzzle cleaning system and carried it into the field with her while she was hunting. She called it “the Whole Kit and Caboodle”, and a company was born. Doreen named the company after her father’s middle name, involved her whole family in the operations, and used it to create a legacy of gun cleaning excellence, with all manufactur ing done completely in the USA. In the early years, she did production at her kitchen table employing her family and friends. To ensure everyone involved with the com- pany never forgot where they came from during the early days, when the new factory was built, one of those first products of “the Whole Kit and Caboodle” which is a pull through cleaning kit in a shoe polish tin, was cast into the concrete floor in a main travel corridor for everyone to see and be reminded of their roots. Today Otis em- ploys hundreds of people, more than half who are wom- en, many of whom having 15 or more years of tenure at the company.
Fast forward to today, they ship their products world- wide to many market segments including direct to consumer, military, and recently sent product to assist the Ukrainians in their fight. We paid a visit to their Lyons Falls headquarters in upstate New York. There, we were met by Heather Pleskach, Director of Marketing, and Erin Bush, Vice President of Operations, both of whom have been with Otis for over 15 years. Immediately you notice how clean the facility is, and we were given booties to prevent us from tracking anything from the outdoors inside the building. I have been in hospitals that were not as clean as this manufacturing plant is, de- spite the fact they have heavy equipment doing cutting, crimping and CNC milling. Heather explained that keep- ing the facility clean is everyone’s responsibility from the CEO on down to the newest hire, and that they equated cleanliness with product quality. It is very clear that Otis employees take cleanliness, product quality, and cus- tomer focus seriously. Otis even recycles the air in the CNC machining area to remove the oil that has atomized into the air, both to recycle it for future use, and to keep it from spreading into other areas on the manufacturing floor. All shifts meet every morning as a group under the Mission Statement banner hung over the entrance to the manufacturing floor to get appraised of the daily produc- tion goals, hear company information and announce- ments, and celebrate their wins.
Bush explained how the manufacturing cells are or- ganized to take advantage of both automations, and the need to do certain processes in a manual fashion. The flow of raw materials into a work cell and finished goods out is carefully planned by groups of 4-6 people who build the cells that they will be working in, using lean manufacturing methods and Kaizen principles. Many employees are cross-trained and can perform several jobs on the manufac- turing floor both supervising the automated machines and simultaneously performing some of the tasks that do not lend themselves to higher levels of automation. Otis engineers are regularly redesigning and improving their internal processes. Once, when they conceived of an automated machine, their machine vendors told them it could not be built. Otis engineers designed and built the machine in- house, used it to run just over a mil- lion parts, and then gave the design to their vendor to make a second machine. Pleskach mentioned their engineering and machine building capability in house allows them to develop new products quickly and test market them before making a large investment in time and ma- chinery.
Raw materials and finished goods travel between the 4-story warehouse, the production floor, and the shipping/re- ceiving areas with robotic carriers that sense obstacles, including people, and route their travel path around them. Unknowingly, we impacted the travel route of one such robot and we successfully blocked the entire travel corridor from its movement. It patiently waited for us to recognize the error by quietly flashing at us until we moved on out of its way, without giving us a cross word or even a beep. While this level of efficiency is impres- sive, it comes with a focus on safety as well. Bush noted that the company regularly invites outside inspectors into the plant to comment on processes and asses the safety procedures used in every area of the factory. No surprise as this is baked into the Core Values stated in the company’s Mission Statement.
While the company roots are based in a Breech to Muzzle® cleaning system, which they claim is still the best method for one-pass cleaning and to keep dirt out of the action of the gun, their product line has expanded to include many other guns care products. Also included now are gunsmithing/maintenance tools, cleaning chemicals, and kits configured for specific applications like target shooting or hunting, by caliber or type of weapon. Recently, Otis acquired the company Shooters Choice, who makes state of the art gun cleaning and lubrication products. These products are also included in most gun cleaning kits and available separately. In case you are wondering what specific product to choose or how to use a particular cleaning kit, their YouTube channel has many instructional videos to demonstrate how to use them effectively. All products and components are proudly made here in the USA.
The last stop in our tour was the warehouse. It rises up over 4 stories and has a robotic system to pick and place both raw materials and finished goods inventory. It is truly a marvel of automation. Doreen tells the story of when she went to get her first loan, the banker told her she would “never have a million dollars’ worth of inventory,” and she told him “Just watch me”. Clearly there is a banker somewhere eating a healthy dose of humble pie and enjoying feasting on his words.
We finished up the day with a discussion of the changes that the market has seen since Garrett started Otis Technologies 37 years ago. At that time, she had to have her father talk to customers because she was not taken seriously, especially by male military contacts, when the subject of gun cleaning came up. Pleskach also noted how much of a male-dominated industry the outdoor field was when she started with the company 15 years ago, and that no one wanted to talk to her at a trade show. Today she is clearly an expert in the compa- ny’s product lines and knows the world of marketing to customers in her industry well. Garrett’s vision and persistence has sustained Otis well, allowed them to attract and retain a very capable manage- ment team, and set them up to continue to operate successfully well into the future by paying attention to the details.